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October 19, 2011

Inside look at 'Depth Chart'

MADISON - Bret Bielema was admittedly apprehensive when ESPN approached him and his football program about signing on for its "Depth Chart" program set to air Wednesday evening.

The sixth-year head coach just wasn't sure if the timing was right or if it was going to become an unnecessary distraction for a team that already endured plenty of off-field attention.

But following a talk with his athletic director and UW's former head football coach, Barry Alvarez, Bielema thought it would be in his program's best interest to proceed with the show.

"I wanted to do it for exposure," Bielema said. "That's it. I thought it would be a great way for us to have exposure."

So a relationship was started.

Bielema, in an unprecedented move, opened the doors to the UW football facilities and let in a number of cameras, a crew and a bevy of never-before-seen attention to his fall camp proceedings.

"We were very fortunate that they gave us quite a bit of access," Mark Ruberg, producer of Depth Chart, told FM 100.5 (WTLX) in Madison during its "Badger Hour" program. "It's all about building trust in the beginning, whether it was with coach Bielema or coach Chryst.

"They sort of had to get to know us and get the feel for what we're about."

Never having this type of attention before, Bielema had to sit down and discuss what ESPN's overall goal of the series was. He wanted to be absolutely sure that it was a good fit for his program and for his players.

There was already a copious amount of hype entering the season specifically relating to the addition of Russell Wilson. It was a team that had plenty of returning parts and an offensive line that featured five players with starting experience. Being a good team was suddenly the afterthought. Suddenly Wisconsin was talking national championship.

Was this going to be too much for Wilson, in a new environment, to handle?

"He wanted to do it," Bielema said.

So the specifics were conversed.

"As that trust develops over time the guys start to understand that we all had the same goal," Ruberg said. "We wanted to capture what it takes to play quarterback in college, at Wisconsin specifically, and to capture the feel and flavor of the program.

"As we developed our relationships we were able to do that."

Suddenly, though, it became apparent that this hour long showcase of the Badger program wasn't going to be strictly centered on Russell Wilson and his transition to Madison.

As the ESPN crew quickly found out, there are plenty of other bubbly characters on the roster that were worthy of airtime. So while the football action of fall camp is definitely prevalent, it's certainly not the only thing this program was about.

"We did some cool off the field stuff," Ruberg said. "We went to breakfast with the offensive line and we were able to get Russell and Nick Toon playing Madden football against each other. We didn't stage anything. We just said, 'Hey, what do you guys usually do.'

"As they told us what they were doing, if we thought it would be good for the show they were often kind enough to let us in there."

Four schools were profiled in the 'Depth Chart' series. Wisconsin's episode is the third installment. Auburn, Oklahoma State and Miami were also showcased. At the time of the selection all four schools were ranked top 15 nationally. So far, each school has been ranked in the top 25 when their specific episode aired.

Wisconsin's will air at the most convenient of times.

It's just a handful of days before UW's critical showdown at Michigan State. It's just days before UW is featured once again on ESPN's premier college football program 'College Gameday' and it's a school that features a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.

Everything has worked out to a tee.

"We couldn't dream of a better situation," Ruberg said. "We knew Russell Wilson was a great player and there were a lot of interesting quarterbacks with a lot to bring, whether it was Joe Brennan or Nate Tice, to the story of Wisconsin football.

"Of course having a quarterback that's being discussed in Heisman contention really only helps raise the visibility not only of the show but it also makes it more relevant."

Wilson, like he has done so many times this year and throughout the course of his career, impressed the producers and crew of the show. He is the focal point of the program and his story is very engaging.

"He definitely has that it factor," Ruberg said. "We have a really interesting little segment in the show. We see Russell staying late after practice to help Joe Brennan. He's coaching him, giving him advice and telling him things he learned. This is the new guy that just had to compete for the new position yet here he is staying late and helping one of the younger guys get better at his game.

"That kind of shows you the kind of selflessness that he has."

As far as production value is concerned, Ruberg said he pitched a program that had a 'Hard Knocks' feel to it, but one that also one that drew a younger audience, was presented in an edgier format and one that combined a 'Friday Night Light's' aura, only with college kids and a cinematic disposition.

"What does it mean to wear that uniform, to sing 'On Wisconsin' and step on the field at Camp Randall," Ruberg asked. "We wanted to capture all that for our viewers so that when they flipped on that hour of television they're like, 'I get it.'

"That's why this program is so strong."

'Depth Chart' Wisconsin will air on ESPN Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. central time.


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